Kingdom Bardic videos

Here’s some video footage of my run at An Tir’s Kingdom Bardic Championship. The videos of “Pastyme” and “Boar’s Head Carol” are from the first day (I missed getting “Three Ravens”!), and “Three Ravens” is from the finals on Sunday.

I apologize for the video quality, these were taken from my iPad, and I haven’t yet posted the ones my friend took with her camera and tripod setup. Those will be added to the playlist in the near future.

Enjoy. :)

3 Days

1501188_641891945876160_851776193_oThis is it, folks. In three days I head to the Kingdom Bardic championship to compete.

I have done all the preparing I can.

I have dotted all the T’s and crossed all the I’s.

My fingers know the songs.

My heart knows the words.

This is the point at which there is no going back, when everything either comes together or falls apart. Wish me luck (or ‘break a leg’ if you prefer). I’m going to be playing it cool from here on out, because this is the hush as the lights dim.

Things to Work On

Yesterday found my husband and myself in the company of our SCA friends at a lovely indoor event called “Feast of Fools” in the Barony of Wealdsmere. As I had wished for a low-key, almost non-existent birthday celebration this year, J and I opted to spend the day together in the company of our medievally friends.

It was wonderful. I got to watch my wonderful man fence, where he came away with another tournament win, I got to hang out and socialize with a bunch of fun people, and I got to do a bit of performing later in the day. I’d even got a goodly portion of my garb sewing done beforehand, and so I had the luxury of wearing my new kirtle and feeling good in it. :-)

During the Bardic portion of the feast, I took the opportunity to present one of my pieces I have been preparing for the Kingdom Bardic Championship in two weeks. I chose the one that has been giving me the most challenge, my instrumental piece, and I’m glad I did, as I now have a much better idea if the things I need to work on.

I couldn’t figure out why I had such a case of nerves heading into performing this particular piece, until I realized that it has been a good eight years since I did a strictly instrumental solo. Possibly nine years. That is a very long time to go without having any kind of a recital, and I believe my subconscious was telling me that I felt vulnerable without my strumming and singing methods at my disposal. I plan to perform this piece frequently front of others starting tomorrow, in an effort to ease the sense of vulnerability that set my picking hand to shaking like a leaf in a windstorm.

I also learned, through experiencing the rare “performance jitters” which parts of his piece I need to practice more.

This is down to the wire, now, folks. This is where my years of performance experience come in: dissecting the parts of these songs to tease out the bugs, smooth the wrinkles, and knit the wonky parts back into a whole.

11 days.

Getting Real

Schedules were posted today for the big bardic competition in three weeks. This is getting real. But the best part?

Finding out I get to open the whole affair, front and center, with my most visually striking piece. Oh yeah.

I’m really starting to get amped.

I still have some sewing to do, and practicing, but the most enjoyable part of this has been the learning process. Even this close to the showdown, I am still picking up bits and pieces that bring me closer to the life my persona, Emma, may have had in Tudor England. I am learning how to make my guitar sing, how to make the lyrics resonate, what these three pieces — and myself — are made of.

Even if I don’t come close to placing in the finals, I can honestly say that I have relished this experience and am so very glad I decided to take a chance and enter, when I could very easily have chosen to curl up under my safe little rock. It has been amazing thus far, and I have no doubt the event will follow thusly.

20 days.

Preparations

Time is ticking down.

28 days until the Kingdom Bardic competition.

I am literally on the very last page of my documentation for my three performance pieces — tomorrow I will print out one final version to read over to make sure I catch any last-minute oddities, and then I will begin printing copies for the judges.

My husband is finishing up his generous project of the wooden boar head for one of my props.

I am a few stitches away from completing my heraldic banner to carry in.

I am going fabric shopping tomorrow so I can sew myself a prettier kirtle & chemise to wear for the event.

I have been practicing my performances and am getting closer and closer to the final product. Memorization is coming along nicely.

The only things I have left to do are:

-Tally up costs for the weekend and budget accordingly…
-Solidify carpooling plans…
-Figure out what I need to pack for my performances…

…and most importantly, begin rehearsing the “stage setting” part of my presentation. (Yes, I’m procrastinating a bit because I tend to prefer to ‘wing’ it a little based on the tenor of the audience, but I really do need to set some things in stone so I don’t sound like a blithering idiot.)

I’ve broached the idea within my Barony to pick a day to do our presentations in front of an audience so we don’t have to walk into the competition completely cold, and it might just work. Gotta few scheduling details to hash out, but it’s looking good.

28 days.

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Musical Partnerships, or, Asking a Dead Guy How to Play Music

I’m learning a LOT of stuff about early music as I prepare for Kingdom Bardic. I’m learning more about music history, how stage performance began, the science of notation, oral/aural traditions, and, well, lots. of. stuff. The Interlibrary Loan service at my local library has become my best friend. A few weeks ago they got me this book, “Medieval and Renaissance Music: A Performer’s Guide” by Timothy McGee, and it’s such an eye-opener!

So, back in the day, the bulk of my musical studies were classically oriented. Now, I love me some good classical music, but the biggest reason I abandoned those studies as soon as I graduated college was because I wanted to have the ability to interpret songs how I best felt they should be played. Unfortunately, this is not a popular idea in the classical genre. For example, in the classical field, if you aren’t playing that staccato exactly how the composer wanted it (nevermind that he’s been dead for a few centuries and you can’t ask him), then it’s wrong, and how dare you even consider adding a tiny grace note at the start of that 16th-note run.

I hate that, because we musicians have a lot to offer in terms of interpretation. We can make our instruments truly sing, if we’re given enough leeway to do so. We can take that unassuming page of ink and breathe life into it, and it won’t always be terribly off-the-wall and avant garde.

I’ve always had a fascination with early music, but had never gotten to study much of it beyond what was glossed over in my Music 101 courses. I had assumed it was apples to apples, because it is the base from where classical music grows. When I decided I’d go out for this Kingdom Bardic thing, I’d kind of been internally preparing myself for the fact that I would have to suss out what some long corpsified anonymous songwriter was feeling when he or she penned that fermata.

Imagine my surprise when I read this:

In the musical tradition of the early centuries the composer assumed that the performer had the proper skills to convert the page of notes into music. What was written down was the composer’s share of the creation, but for the performer merely performing the written notes was not sufficient, and it is therefore insufficient for historical recreation. (McGee, p 8)

and:

The composers of the early centuries expected the performer to add to the written score… (p 149)

The musician as a partner in the creation of music? AWESOME! I’m in!

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Performing authentic Renaissance Christmas carols this last November with my small guitar.

McGee goes on to talk about how everything you need to know about music is already there on the page, and how in early music, the written score is basically just a blueprint for how the composer thought the piece might sound best — but all the shots (instrumentation, pauses, grace notes, and ornamentation) are called by the musician. And as long as you have a heart for honoring the temperment, tone, and soul of a piece (i.e. not doing something outright crazy, like playing a Gregorian Chant on an electric guitar…), you are well on your way to recreating an authentic historical performance.

Groovy.

Because, I’ll admit it; if I had an honest-to-goodness lute, it would never be let out of the house because they are so spendy and fragile. The thought of even taking a reproduction Renaissance Guitar (with oodles of fancy inlay and hand-carved bits) to an SCA event makes me cringe. Hell, I even go out of my way to treat that rescued guitar of mine with the utmost care and respect (of course, in its defense, it HAS probably had quite enough abuse back in it’s day to last it the rest of it’s lifetime…). But I still want to be able to present these pieces I have selected in the most accurate manner possible, and no matter what I play, I still appreciate the breathing room to follow my gut on interpretation.

Asking a dead guy how to play their music just isn’t my thing.

But listening to what those dots on the page tell me they need, is.

* * *
Really starting to get my practice routine on, and I’m beginning to see things come together. Found out the other day that I can’t just turn in one, massive, thesis for my three pieces — I have to do one, short paper for each. It’s not too big of a deal, but a tad frustrating as I was almost finished with my Massive Thesis. I went through the other night and split the document into three, and now I have a list of things I need to fill in and bulk up on. Yeeha!

I’m also in the process of scheduling a “dry run” for myself and other people in my Barony to present our entries before an audience, so we aren’t going into Kingdom A&S completely cold. Lots of fun! :-)

Hands

I’ve never really paid that much attention to my hands, before.

I mean, I’ve listened to whether they hurt or didn’t hurt, I’ve listened to what they tell me they can and cannot do. They were always merely the vehicle to my music, to typing my thoughts, to whatever I was working on at the time.

But I’ve never really… noticed… them before.

The other night I cut a webcam video of me working on one of my Kingdom Bardic pieces, as a way for me to better pinpoint focus areas for my practice routine. Filming yourself practicing, by the way, is an awesome avenue for seeing the things you really should be working on, because you can hit ‘playback’ and you don’t have to be concentrating on the music or your instrument, you can just concentrate on seeing areas of improvement.

Anyway.

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Hmm, think I have a little bit of a dry skin problem…

So I cut this little webcam video, and as I watched, I noticed my hands.

When I sit here and type this, they look very unassuming, as hands go. They’re slender, smooth-skinned, and have knobbly joints despite being fairly fine-boned. Small scars dot my knuckles and joints, and the palms are covered in fine lines. Different parts of the fingers are covered in calluses. You know — hands. Plain, jane, average, women hands.

Watching them on the video was entirely different. The webcam was set low — not high and focused on my face as is typical — and as such it had a spectacular view of the magic happening. My hands are… graceful. Lithe. But what surprised me the most was how unusually rugged and muscular they are when in action. I’ve never considered my hands muscular. As I mentioned above, they’re slender, and fairly fine-boned. You don’t expect such a thing to be muscular, let alone rugged. But mine are, and I suddenly find myself in awe of the form and function.

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That’s… years… of piano, saxophone, guitar, ukulele that built those muscles. Thousands of hours of finger-aerobics and — with the stringed instruments — the equivalent of weight lifting.

I had no idea. And it’s so remarkable. And I find in light of actually seeing these two simple structures in action, that I respect even more the things these humble hands of mine are capable of.